The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close until 2186. We can’t wait that long. As the world observes International Women’s Day, we consider the situation of women farmers in less developed countries and ways we can #BeBoldforChange.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women own less than 20% of farmland in less developed countries, but they provide about 43% of the agricultural labor. In Africa, about one quarter of rural households are headed by women, though their landholdings tend to be smaller than men’s. But even women who own farms are unlikely to receive the knowledge and technology they need to produce good harvests, because women benefit from only 5% of the agricultural extension services provided in developing countries
Yet successful women farmers can make a world of difference for their families. Studies have shown that women use nearly all of the money they earn from agriculture on household needs, whereas men spend 25% of their farm earnings on other things. According to the FAO, an increase in a woman farmer’s income equivalent to $10 achieves the same improvements in children’s nutrition and health as an increase in a man’s income of $110.
For these reasons, CIP and its partners take specific measures to engage women. While CIP researchers strive to understand and address the different needs and perceptions of women and men, in order to ensure that CIP’s research for development interventions are as effective as possible, initiatives aimed at improving nutrition prioritize working with women. Examples of these include projects in several African nations that have worked with rural health centers to educate pregnant women and young mothers about the benefits of vitamin-A-rich, orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), and distribute OFSP planting material to those women so that they grow the nutritious crop.
CIP’s promotion of OFSP has improved the lives of countless women and children in Africa and Asia. An example is Marie Claire Mukakimenyi, a widow and mother of five in Rwanda who has been growing OFSP for years. Since she was introduced to the crop through a CIP-led initiative, Mukakimenyi has made OFSP a regular part of her family’s diet, and the sale of OFSP roots and planting material has significantly increased her income. She has used her OFSP earnings to build a second house, which she rents, and to pay for her children’s studies.
Another beneficiary of CIP’s OFSP work is Sabrina, a Bangladeshi farmer who began growing the crop on her husband’s land in Central Bangladesh. Over the course of four years of growing and selling OFSP roots and planting material, she earned enough money to buy two cows, build a small house, and rent a patch of farmland where she now grows OFSP and
CIP’s efforts to promote the cultivation and sale of nutritious native potatoes the Andes region of South America have produced comparable success stories. Recent research in highland communities of Peru where indigenous farmers participated in Papa Andina – a regional project that tapped the commercial potential of native potatoes – found that many women who participated in the initiative have since purchased or rented land, and more than 19 percent have gained access to credit.
Such positive developments are proof of the power of research for development. CIP will continue working to make its interventions more gender responsive, in order to catalyze positive transformations in the lives of more women farmers. By empowering women in impoverished agricultural communities, we can achieve more in our mission to improve the food security, nutrition and incomes of some of the world’s poorest people.